Thursday, June 18, 2009

What Walter Rodney Did For Guyana

What Walter Rodney did for Guyana

June 10th. 2009

As we observe the 29th anniversary of Walter Rodney's assassination on Saturday June 13, it is a good time to reflect on his role and legacy to Guyana. Some people like to have it both ways. They want to suck cane and blow whistle at the same time.

According to these people, Walter Rodney was a "visionary", a good man and a bright man. But he was also a bad politician who should not have opposed Burnham. In the final analysis he did nothing for the Guyanese people and should not be revered.

Those views are rooted in the perception that one is only of service to people if one panders to their racial insecurity and uses that insecurity to achieve state power and give the people a sense of dominance, however illusory. It is also rooted in the assumption that a great leader is one who achieves state power for his race or his supporters.

The problem for Rodney's detractors is that they cannot dismiss him. So they admit that he was a visionary and a bright man-- to them these are harmless characterizations. The truth of the matter is that Guyanese who lived and suffered under and struggled against the PNC dictatorship are indebted to Walter Rodney. That is a fact that cannot be disputed.

While Jagan and Burnham led the fight for bread and justice they both failed miserably in the quest for racial unity. Rodney on the other hand simultaneously waged the struggle for bread and justice and racial unity. He led the Guyanese people in the direction of national unity with the most effective unifying tool--UNITED ACTION. That is what makes Rodney a qualitatively different leader to the two "gods."

As is well known, Rodney's united movement brought home to the PNC the harsh reality that it could no longer command African loyalty with the threat of Indian take-over. But Rodney did even more than that. Along with the WPA, Rodney made it possible for Dr. Jagan and the PPP to re-enter African communities. This was most significant, for it allowed Dr. Jagan to make his case directly to the African masses in an uncensored manner. It also helped the anti-polarization elements in the PPP to break out of the racial prison in which they found themselves.

When Rodney arrived on the scene, the morale of the Guyanese people was quite low. Those Africans who wanted to fight the PNC were constrained by racial considerations, while their Indian counterparts were dismayed by Jagan's flip-flop as evidenced in his critical support for the PNC dictatorship. What Rodney did was to give inspiration to the people to fight despite those obstacles.

To paraphrase Martin Carter, those who had forgotten how to fight learned how to fight for the revolution. Rodney reinvigorated that fighting spirit in the Guyanese people and soon the battles were moved to the union halls and the street corners. Those battles of the late 1970s ignited the progressive decline of the dictatorship and made October 5, 1992 possible.

What else Rodney did for the Guyanese people? He encouraged them in the direction of self-organization and self-emancipation. The Rodney, Thomas and Kwayana workers' classes in Wismar/McKenzie were greatly responsible for the heightened consciousness that led workers under the banner of the Organization of the Working People (OWP) to continue to take action independent of the leadership of the unions. That independent spirit soon moved to the costal workers and gave rise to the independent Four Union bloc: GAWU, CCWU, NAACIE and UGSA (later renamed UGWU).

It was the Rodneyite consciousness and militancy of the workers that
brought union leaders such as Gordon Todd on to the streets to march with workers. It was the Rodneyite consciousness that inspired young people in Buxton to occupy the Village Hall until their demands for improved services were met. Yes, Rodney raised the consciousness of the Guyanese people in a way that propelled them to concrete action for their own liberation. He inspired People's Power.

Finally, Walter Rodney's achievements as a brilliant scholar and his
global reputation were largely responsible for the international attention to the plight of the Guyanese people. Remember that Burnham's progressive profile on the world stage could not be effectively countered by Jagan who had backed himself into a narrow communist corner. It was the entry of Walter Rodney that caused world opinion to begin to scrutinize Burnham more closely. Rodney is to Guyana what Mandela is to South Africa and Martin Luther King is to the USA.

His scholastic achievements also did something else that was profound to the Guyanese struggle. It drew the scholars out of their ivory towers and into the people's struggle. He also inspired church-people to openly witness for the poor and the oppressed. And he inspired young people to educate themselves, not to become intellectual mercenaries, but to be true patriots of peoples' liberation. That's why Walter Rodney lives.
David Hinds lectures in Caribbean and African Diaspora Studies at Arizona State University in the USA. His writings on Politics in Guyana and the Caribbean can be found on his website.

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